What’s My Pee Telling Me?

Varoon Bashyakarla | varoon.bashyakarla@yale.edu October 1, 2010

Take care of business. Flush. Forget. Repeat. Generating waste is a fact of life for each and every one of the six billion human beings inhabiting the planet and yet, we’d all rather ignore our waste than entertain the idea of thinking about it twice. We tend to treat our waste as just that—waste. Josh Richman and Dr. Anish Sheth, however, put waste in the spotlight in their latest book, What’s My Pee Telling Me? The book, a sequel to What’s Your Poo Telling You?, which reached number two on the New York Times bestseller list, contains 127 pages dedicated to exposing the treasure trove of information hidden within our waste in four sections devoted to urine, excrement, flatulence, and age-old bodily myths.

As Sheth, Director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Program at the Yale Medical School, expressed in a recent interview, “For a long time in the Western world, waste was treated as something to be done away with.” For ages, outhouses were relegated to distant corners, reducing the chance of spreading disease through feces while also ensuring a sense of privacy and discretion. In turn, we have grown reluctant to discuss our bodily waste. However, as Sheth noted, in a time when “people are becoming consumers of health information on their own” many have questions about their waste but are simply too nervous to ask.

In response, What’s My Pee Telling Me? provides information on everything from urine color to the notorious silent-but-deadly flatulence phenomenon in understandable, everyday language and couches its discussion in a cloud of humor that makes reading it both fun and informative. “It has medical information but doesn’t read like a textbook,” Sheth said of his latest book. It seeks to answer serious questions in a light-hearted, consumer-friendly way. Nearly every page introduces a new phenomenon accompanied by comical nicknames, funny illustrations, and objective medical explanations. Some are further supplemented with tidbits of historical insight and entertaining trivia all about waste.

My favorite piece is a discussion of loud flatulence dubbed “The Explosion” that captures the spirit of What’s My Pee Telling Me? In this section, the authors define a fart’s loudness as a function of gas volume, gas expulsion pressure, and the anal canal diameter next to a mortifyingly hysterical picture. Potty humor aside, the explanation proceeds to expound upon the role of flatogenic foods, abdominal muscles, and bacterial play in flatulence. The explanation steers clear of technical scientific jargon but manages to provide readers with a working scientific understanding of the topic at hand. The piece concludes on a humorous high note with a brief historical snippet about Joseph Pujol, a nineteeth-century Frenchman who could pass gas at will.

I would highly recommend this appropriately yellow and brown-colored book to young professionals and college students who can appreciate a good laugh. While meant to inform and answer questions, What’s My Pee Telling Me? is shallow on the scientific details underlying the conditions it explains. If you’re looking for a book detailing the chemicals responsible for urine’s yellow color, leave this one on the shelf. Richman and Sheth’s new book will provide you with a general overview of GI-related phenomena and just enough scientific information to cover the tip of the iceberg. After reading What’s My Pee Telling Me?, you will never disregard your waste as waste again.

Book Information

Title: What’s My Pee Telling Me?
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Authors: Josh Richman and Anish Sheth, M.D.
ISBN: 081186877XAvailable in Bass Library